“Okay, let’s go over this again.” Andy lit another cigarette, tossed the match into the ashtray and took a deep inhale, grateful for a moment that Joel didn’t have a thing about smoking in his apartment. He stared at the storyboard on the computer screen, clicking through the pictures one by one. “Banoosh walks into the Temple of the Hours.”
“Right.” Joel was sitting on the edge of his seat.
“He has the six Daggers of the Underlords.”
“And he goes into the Temple of the Hours, ready to fight Archangel Selaphiel for the fate of all mankind.”
“Yeah, yeah!” Joel’s leg was jittering up and down in place.
“And then, after fourteen hours of gameplay. After killing off six other Archangels. After going through countless fights against all the beasts and monsters and demons we can come up with, this happens.” Andy reached over, clicked the mouse, and the rough pre-vis animation started to play on the screen.
The camera followed Banoosh as he walked into the great, vaulted Temple of the Hours, six daggers of radically different styles hanging on his belt. The voice track was terrible, clearly something Joel had done on his phone. “I am Banoosh!” Banoosh said in a voice that was clearly Joel trying to make his normal high reediness sound deep and heroic. “I have come to face you, Selaphiel!” The camera followed Banoosh through the great arch of the Throne Room, which – when it was properly rendered someday – would be magnificent. Andy had already done some illustrations for it, and they still didn’t quite match what he had in his head. Great, curving walls of giant dark, volcanic stones, towering windows that turned the sunlight into a dull red glare, great torches on the walls, and the throne in the center of it all. The throne would be a masterpiece of design – white marble and gold, with the symbols of all seven archangels etched into the high back.
And sitting in the throne would be Selaphiel, who would be beautiful. Not like a regular End Boss, all spikes and fangs and blood, but graceful, delicate, with eyes full of love and compassion. In the story he’d worked out, Selaphiel truly believed that it was doing the right thing, that every torment it devised, every city it destroyed was for a greater good, and it pitied Banoosh for not being able to understand that fairly obvious fact. And, of course, it wouldn’t let the hero stand in the way of its ultimate victory.
In Andy’s head, the game was already finished, which made this part all the more painful. Where Andy had the ideas for the game, it was Joel who had the resources. He had the machine that could put together their demo to shop around. He was able to use the graphics programs and the 3D engines that would give them a chance to make something that had obvious potential value when they showed it to the real game companies. Without Joel, Andy’s idea would have been just that. With him, there was a chance that the game could come to life.
The trade-off, of course, was that Joel had ideas too. Lots of ideas. And he was not shy about sharing them. Ever since they started working together, Andy had been shooting down ideas that were plainly stupid. Joel wanted to have different selectable outfits, which included a schoolgirl uniform and a chicken suit. He wanted the third archangel to be a disco pimp and have a palace made entirely of cocaine and dildos. He thought that there should be a sub-game where the player had to copy ever-increasingly difficult dance moves. He wanted Banoosh to have a sidekick. A talking dog sidekick. That sounded like Cheech and or Chong.
Joel was a fantastic programmer, that much was clear. But every idea he came up with was dumber than the last one, and it was getting harder and harder to shoot them down with anything resembling constructive criticism.
Andy stubbed out his cigarette as the cut scene continued and lit another one. Banoosh was finishing his speech to the archangel about how he would end his reign of wickedness, send him back to his dark masters, blah blah blah, and the whole thing was just awful. But Andy would be able to fix that much. The speech wasn’t the problem.
Selaphiel stood up from its throne, made a gesture that would, when the game was done, be a twisted rippling of reality itself, and… A giant stone fell from the ceiling, crushing Banoosh underneath. His arms and legs were sticking out comically from underneath, and a red pool of blood slowly oozed out.
The video ended.
They were silent for a moment. Andy sucked on the cigarette. Joel started cracking his knuckles. “Well?” he finally said. “Is that a great ending, or what?”
Andy closed his eyes and counted to five. “That’s your ending. The hero gets squashed like a bug.”
“Yeah!” Joel was up out of his seat now. “No one will see it coming! It’ll be a complete surprise, they’ll be talking about this for ages!”
“They’ll be coming for our heads!” Andy shouted, smoke billowing from his mouth. He stood up to match Joel. “That has gotta be the dumbest ending I’ve seen since Saw! Anyone idiotic enough to play through the whole thing and then get to that ending is going to show up on our doorstep with torches and pitchforks!” He was close enough now that he was able to poke Joel in the chest. “And anyone lucky enough to hear about it before they play will probably decide to spend their money on something more useful, like dogshit-flavored Oreos!”
Joel looked puzzled for a moment. “Do they even make -”
“No! What the hell were you thinking with this?” He spun around and started pacing, taking another cigarette from the pack as he swung by the desk. “You begged me to let you write the finale, I said sure, you’ve spent two weeks on it, and this is what you came up with?” He clicked the animation again, rewound it, and they watched the stone fall on Banoosh again. “That’s it?” He glared up at Joel, squinting slightly to keep the smoke out of his eyes.
“But…” Joel looked lost. “But it’s ironic. Right? I mean, games always end with the hero winning against impossible odds, so I thought -”
“You thought? You thought this was ironic? What the hell kind of hipster doofus bullshit is that supposed to be?” He jammed the cigarette out. “Nobody wants to play a game because it’s ironic, you ass! They want to play it because it’s fun! Because they think they can win! If they want ironic they can go read Shakespeare!” He dropped back into his chair and put his head in his hands. “I can’t believe I let you waste our time like this. Jesus, we were supposed to have a meeting with Qualis next week and we don’t even have -”
Andy looked up, and for a moment wasn’t sure what he was looking at. Joel was standing next to him, standing still, with his arms crossed and a look of anger that was positively unnatural on his face. “Hey,” he said again. “I think you should go.”
“You heard me,” Joel said. He pointed to the door. “I think you should go.”
Andy looked at the door and then back to Joel. “What? I don’t -”
“Maybe you didn’t like the ending, and that’s cool. But you’re being a serious asshole about it, and I don’t think I need that.” He nodded at the door this time. “So get out.”
Andy stood up slowly. “Hey,” he said. “Look, I was just a little surprised is all. Right?”
“No, man.” Joel reached over and turned off the monitor. “You’ve been like this since we started. Every time I have an idea, you shoot it down like I’m some kind of moron. And I don’t think I want to work with you anymore.”
Now the panic was setting in. “Look,” Andy said, “I’m really sorry about that, man. It’s just that this is important to me, right? And you’re the only person I know who can make this work. So why don’t we just smooth this over and fix this? Right?” He gestured at the blank screen. “We can still get something together for the demo next week.”
Joel shook his head. “I don’t think so,” he said. “I have my own ideas for games, and I think they’re pretty good.” He shrugged. “Maybe they are and maybe they aren’t, but I don’t need someone stomping all over ‘em because they don’t fit your little dream project.” He walked over to the door, opened it, and waited. “I’ll send you all the files and I’ll get rid of my copies, don’t worry about that. But you’re gonna have to go find someone who’ll put up with you, man. Because it won’t be me.” He just stood there, arms crossed.
A dozen different responses flew into Andy’s head, from begging to screaming to both. His stomach was churning and he was pretty sure he could taste blood. His hand shaking, he picked up his jacket off the back of the chair and walked slowly to the door. He stood in front of it for a moment and turned to Joel, who just shook his head and nodded towards the outside.
Andy felt his gorge rise as the door slammed behind him. He took the stairs down, his feet landing heavily on each step. When he got outside, the sun was bright, the sidewalk busy.
He took a deep breath and looked up at where he was pretty sure Joel’s apartment was. “Okay,” he said. “I can fix this.” He nodded. “I can fix this.”
As my cast list grows, every now and then I’ll randomly choose two or three characters and see what happens when I put them together. Insofar as there is a canon to any of these stories, these are not canon. Or maybe they are. We’ll see.
This story features Dr. Traci Keniston, who was mentioned but not seen in day 48, Creative Thinking; Ty Palmer, one of the leads from day 7, Confession; and Treva Vanderberg, who was shot and injured in day 33′s Monsters. Let’s watch and see what happens…
Dr. Keniston put the phone down and shook her head. She didn’t know how Dr. Bettencourt had gotten that grant money, but it had clearly gone to her head. She took a look around her desk and did a quick mental calculation. Papers were graded, the exam was nearly finished, and she’d just finished inputting grades for the semester. There was nothing on the schedule until the faculty meeting at three. Just time for a quick lunch.
The student union was nearly empty, being just after the lunchtime rush. There were pockets of students sitting around tables, studying and listening to music on headphones. Some of them chatting about whatever it was they were going to do instead of study. A could who knew her waved and said hi, and she waved back. Not a lot of professors liked to eat with the students – some sort of professional pride or other nonsense. Dr. Keniston felt that it was best for the teachers to know a little bit about the kids they were teaching. To mingle, and get a feel for the world. She ordered a burger and picked up a salad to go with it, and drummed her fingers on the counter while she waited.
An idea for a short story popped into her head – a short-order cook who overhears a murder plot – and quickly jotted it down in her idea book. It might not go anywhere, she thought, but there was no point wasting it. She got her burger, paid for it, and sat down in one of the booths.
Luch was a great time to think, so she ate in silence, without her usual lunchtime reading, until the conversation from the next booth over caught her ear.
“Ty, it’s not you, it’s….” The girl’s voice caught, and she sounded like she was trying to get herself under control. “No, it is you, Ty. I’m so sorry, but it is!”
“Treva, I don’t understand.” Dr. Keniston knew this voice – Ty Palmer, one of her students. She took out her idea book and started spinning the pen in her fingers. Was it right to eavesdrop on what was obviously a breakup? No, of course not. Completely unethical. Only a monster would mine it for dialog ideas.
She tapped the pages, impatient for the next line.
“Ty, it’s just that you’re never… there. Even when you’re here, you’re not here.”
“What does that even mean, Treva? I’ve always been here!”
The girl sniffled again. “No, you’re not, Ty.” She paused, and it was a meaningful pause. “Ty, when we’re… together, you always seem like you’re thinking of something else. Maybe someone else, I don’t know. You don’t look at me, and when you do…” Now the tears came, and there was little point in trying to stop them. Keniston made a couple of notes, but so far nothing had really struck her. Ty said something soft, hard to understand.
“No, Ty,” Treva said. “It’s not just that. I don’t think this is something you can really fix, and I know you want to. I…” Keniston got her pencil ready. This should be it. “You left your computer browser open the other day, Ty. When I came by to drop off your sneakers.” That meaningful silence again. “I saw what you were looking at, Ty.”
There was a sound of someone – Ty, probably – trying to get out of the booth, and she was trying to keep him there. Their words overran each other. He tried making excuses to leave, she tried to stop him, and it wasn’t until she finally came out and said what she’d been holding on to for the last fifteen minutes that he finally sat back down.
“I know you’re gay, Ty.”
The quiet made Keniston’s fingertips itch.
Treva’s voice was quiet, but there was some core of strength to it. “I want you to be happy,” she said. “But I can’t be the one to make you happy.”
“But…” His voice was dry. “But you do make me happy, Treva. You do.”
“Not the way you need,” she said. “And if letting you go means that you can find that person, then… Then that’s what I have to do.” She slid out of the booth and stood up. “I’m so sorry, Ty,” she said. “I love you too much to let you stay with me.” With that, she walked away. Keniston caught a glimpse of her as she headed for the door, a beautiful girl who walked with a cane. She’d seen her around the science buildings before, but never had her in class.
She looked at her notebook, where she had written Treva’s parting lines, and she could feel, like a kind of pressure, Ty in the booth behind her. Perhaps it was a trick of the ears, or her mind making her hear what she wanted to hear. She was pretty sure he was crying. She looked at the notebook again, sighed, and tore the page out and crumpled it up. She took her tray and stood, trying very hard not to look behind her at the poor, ruined boy in the booth. She stood there a moment, not moving, and then turned around.
Ty looked up as she sat down across from him. His eyes were red – she had been right. Even so, he was a handsome one. He’ll make some lucky guy very happy someday, she thought. She set the tray aside and leaned towards him on the table. “I overheard, Ty. I’m sorry.”
He nodded, sniffed, and wiped his nose. “Yeah,” he said. “Me too.”
“Dessert,” she said. “My treat.” She stood up, waiting for him to do the same. He rubbed his eyes clear again, nodded, and stood, not even bothering to sling his bag over his shoulder. “C’mon,” she said. “Nothing like ice cream when you’re the dumpee.” She put an arm around his shoulders. “Make it through this,” she said, “and you’ll have a great story on your hands.”
He started talking before they even got out of the student union. And she was right.